Mohamed Aboutrika surely boasts one of the most impressive medal collections in the whole of African football. The 30-year-old playmaker is the living embodiment of success in the Egyptian game. He spearheaded his country’s triumphs at the 2006 and 2008 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, and led Cairo giants Al Ahly to four consecutive domestic championship titles.
Thanks in no small part to Aboutrika’s outstanding ability, Al Ahly have hit the international headlines too, as the Red Devils marched to CAF Champions League glory in 2005, 2006 and 2008. The reward for this year’s exceptional achievement was another tilt at the FIFA Club World Cup, the Cairo outfit’s third shot at the trophy and one of the few winners’ medals missing from Aboutrika’s list of honours.
After finishing a creditable third in 2006, when Aboutrika contributed three goals, Al Ahly arrived in Japan for this year’s event with their sights set on a sensational triumph. However, despite leading 2-0 at the interval, coach Manuel Jose’s men fell 4-2 after extra-time in the quarter-finals to Mexican side Pachuca, forcing them to put their world title dreams on ice for at least one more year.
On Thursday, Aboutrika and his team-mates will be seeking a consolation fifth-place finish when they take on Adelaide United. FIFA.com spoke exclusively to the amiable and modest midfield star about the FIFA Club World Cup 2008, 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying, and his personal future.
I want to say a heartfelt thank-you to all the fans and I just hope I can repay their faith in me.
FIFA.com: How disappointed are you with your quarter-final exit to Pachuca?
Mohamed Aboutrika: As a player, you basically have to deal with all kinds of results, but we’re a top team, and losing this match after going 2-0 up was very painful indeed.
Why did you lose the game?
We were 2-0 up at half-time, and then we scored a third after the interval, only to have it ruled out. Pachuca pulled one back almost immediately after that, so instead of it being 3-0 to us, it was suddenly only 2-1. Their goal was the turning point in the match. Pachuca finally hit their stride, and we suddenly lost the plot, our confidence evaporated.
You can still lead your team to fifth place against Adelaide United, and you would personally become the all-time leading scorer at the FIFA Club World Cup if you score at least once. Does that make you even more motivated?
I’m not even thinking about it. Being the top scorer or winning any kind of individual award doesn’t bother me. All that matters to me is the team. We have to go out there and prove we’re a quality team. We need to recover from the defeat to Pachuca as quickly as possible, so we’re determined to win our next match and leave behind a good impression.
You’re a candidate for African Player of the Year 2008. What does the nomination mean to you?
Making the shortlist for this award is a great honour. It means I’m being mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto'o and Michael Essien. African footballers rate as some of the best in the world these days.
In qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, Egypt have been grouped with Algeria, Rwanda and Zambia. How would you rate your chances of qualifying for the finals?
We’re favourites to win the group on paper, but that means nothing in football. The only thing that matters is giving everything in every game. All the other teams are strong, so we’ll need to be at our very best to qualify.
Two of your fellow-countrymen, Ahmed "Mido" Hossam and Amr Zaki, are enjoying great success in the English Premier League. Can you see yourself switching to a leading European league at some point?
Clubs from overseas have approached Al Ahly. England or Spain appeal to me, but otherwise, I have no reason to leave.
In our latest FIFA.com poll, we asked our users which star they were most looking forward to seeing at the FIFA Club World Cup 2008. You comfortably received the most votes, easily consigning no less a player than Cristiano Ronaldo to second place. What do you make of that?
I really don’t want to compare myself to Ronaldo or be compared to him, he’s an exceptional, world-renowned player. I’m proud of the chance to take part at this tournament and measure myself against the world’s best players. Naturally, I want to say a heartfelt thank-you to all the fans and I just hope I can repay their faith in me. I promise I’ll keep doing my best in the future, and keep trying to win trophies.